The end of Philippine summer months in bygone days is often associated with the harvesting of the aratiles, a cherry-bearing tree. The carefree days of childhood that many Filipinos know, particularly those living in the countryside, are often marked by manually picking handfuls of these sweet berries.
Aratiles (botanical name Muntingia calabura) is native to southern Mexico, the Caribbean, Central America, and western South America south to Peru and Bolivia. Also grown in southeast Asia, the aratiles may have been one of the fruit trees that were brought from South America by the Spanish galleons during the Spanish colonial period in the Philippines. Common names are Jamaican cherry, Panama berry, Singapore cherry, strawberry tree, bolaina yamanaza, cacaniqua, capulín blanco, nigua, niguito, memizo or memiso.
Also known in Filipino as manzanitas, aratiles berries contain multiple tiny seeds, and is succulently sweet with a sticky, pulpy flesh when fully ripe. Filipino mothers often warn children not to overeat the berries as they are blamed for a bad case of stomach flu. The fun, however, is the harvesting of aratiles, with hard-to-reach berries harvested using a long bamboo stick equipped with a metal hook at the end.
Mabuhay ang aratiles!